My Big Old Texas Heartache
by Geralyn Dawson, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4266-0
After purging every excess glucose in her system that resulted in that overly sweet The Pink Magnolia Club, Geralyn Dawson instead swallows a gallon of vinegar and spew her bile all over the pages to give her latest overly bitter My Big Old Texas Heartache. The book starts out good, mind you, but the author gets so carried away with piling on the Trauma Porn until her story whirls out of control.
Kate Harmon is going home to smalltown Cedar Dell. She left that place a single mother, knocked up by the guy Max Cooper whom she had a crush on since forever (Harlequin heroines, take note), and ends up living pretty much estranged from her family. Then her father is involved in a car accident, and guess who's the lucky daughter that's going home to take care of him. Is Daddy grateful? Let's just say if you ever have issues with a chauvinist, stupid old bastard that is your father, Ms Dawson is going to heat up the scalpel and re-lacerate open all your old wounds. Gawd, that old man is infuriating! (Not you, Dad.)
Then there's the boy, Ryan, who quite appropriately dislikes the man that fathered him. However, the author expects me to pity Max Cooper because he lost his wife to cancer and is now stuck in some bizarrely selfish miasma of guilt that also seems suspiciously like a pro-life diatribe upon closer inspection. But a big whatever to Max, because as the story progresses, the author pretty much forgets that Max exists in this book, so carried away is she in piling on the money troubles, Daddy troubles, son troubles, mommy troubles, and more. In fact, there is a subplot of Kate wanting to help a male friend solve some mystery about his roots in Cedar Dell, but that one pretty much disappears half-way through the story. As for the romance between Kate and Max, I hope readers aren't holding their breath too much waiting for something grand to happen.
What the author really succeeds in doing though is to depict Cedar Dell as a truly horrifying place to live. The father is really, really unbearable and his antics really cross the line, as far as I'm concerned, too many times. But it is, of course, Kate who has to save the day. Kate will have to find the money to help her brother's stupid financial woes. Kate will have to swallow her bile and cater to the father who keeps hurting her again and again emotionally even as he wallows in hateful self-pity. Maybe readers that believe that blood ties is good enough a reason for one to hold hands with other despicable family members and let's all jump off the cliff together, well, these readers will no doubt be moved to tears when the father almost slaps Kate and tells her to get lost after he almost killed her son in some stupid car accident part two and Kate just refuses to pack up and leave. Me, I'm just glad they made it easy for one to sever ties with one's family in court nowadays, because if these people are my family, I'll probably grow up into one of those miserable suicidal goth-punk kids that spend their adult lives writing misanthropic poetry.
Kate finally explodes in page 350, and I say it's about time. Now for her to pack up, leave, marry that nice man she meets in the city, and live life as a born-again orphan. But no. Max comes in and shovels a load of BS on Kate, Kate starts blaming herself for everything, and so she marries Max and lives forever in Cedar Dell. Nothing like a rushed slapped-on happy ending to completely ruin my day.
If the author has taken the time to develop her characters instead of piling on the heartaches until there's no more room for heartaches and then slap a rushed ending on top of the pile, maybe My Big Old Texas Heartache will be more enjoyable. There is no problem in the writing. It's just that... well, as it is, none of the characters in this story are actually held accountable for what they did to Kate, and it is insulting that Kate is the one that holds herself accountable at the end. Is the word "family" that important that one allows oneself to be treated like that? The conclusion has Kate contradicting her very appropriate dressing-down of Max on page 350 and letting those people she says had treated her very badly to take more advantage of her. Only this time, she's in love with everybody. So please gag me with a spoon and hit me in the head with a rolling pin, because I'm not buying this one bit, not one bit.
How sad, truly, that My Big Old Texas Heartache leaves one helluva heartburn in poor old me.
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